Spain will continue investigation into Russian role in Catalonian independence project

Putin promised 500 billion dollars and troops to support separatism in Spain, asking for a crypto heaven for his associates in return.

Spanish magistrates have extended the inquiry into Russian interference in the Catalonian independence process for an additional six months.

This week’s decision comes after the receipt of an anonymous letter containing an article that discloses the identity of the Russian individual who purportedly offered Catalonian separatists as much as half a trillion dollars and a modest army to support their break from Madrid.

In May 2022, OCCRP and the Spanish newspaper El Periódico published an investigation revealing that Nikolai Sadovnikov, a former Soviet and Russian diplomat, held a meeting in Barcelona with former separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on the eve of Catalonia's independence vote in October 2017. 

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During the meeting, Sadovnikov, presenting himself as a representative of the Russian government, extended offers of economic and military assistance to Puigdemont in exchange for legislative measures favoring the use of cryptocurrencies and transforming the newly independent state into a global virtual currency hub.

Additionally, conditions were set, stipulating that Catalonia should refrain from criticizing Moscow's treatment of individuals like Alexey Navalny or the actions of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The Spanish judiciary had appeared to be unaware of the identity of the leader of the group and other specific details from the meeting.

In its decision announced on Monday, the Madrid court, after reviewing extensive documentation in the complex case, found evidence confirming "close relations between some of those investigated and individuals of Russian, German, and Italian nationality." Some of these individuals held diplomatic positions or had affiliations with the Russian secret services and far-right parties, according to the announcement.

The judge emphasized that

the Russian individual's interest was to establish "political and economic influence" over an independent Catalonia, ultimately aiming to destabilize the European Union from within.

Puigdemont is now a fugitive in Belgium, where he is sheltered from legal prosecution for masterminding the illegal referendum on Catalonian independence. In late January, his comrades in the Spanish parliament turned down an amnesty law for separatist politicians and activists, including Puigdemont, citing legal loopholes that could allow his prosecution anyway.

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On the same day, on 31 January, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled Tuesday that Belgium’s decision to refuse the extradition of Catalan separatist Lluís Puig to Spain is not legal — unless it finds “systemic deficiencies” in Spain’s judicial system, Politico said

The court’s judgment sets a precedent for the cases of the Catalan politicians who are currently European lawmakers, namely former president of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, for whom the CJEU temporarily restored Parliamentary immunity in May 2022.

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